Composer Job Description, Education, Training Requirements, Career, Salary, Employment

Job Description: Composers create original music such as symphonies, operas, sonatas, radio and television jingles, film scores, and popular songs. They transcribe ideas into musical notation, using harmony, rhythm, melody, and tonal structure. Although most composers and songwriters practice their craft on instruments and transcribe the notes with pen and paper, some use computer software to compose and edit their music.

Training and Educational Qualifications: Musicians need extensive and prolonged training and practice to acquire the necessary skills, knowledge, and ability to interpret music at a professional level. Formal training may be obtained through private study with an accomplished musician, in a college or university music program, or in a music conservatory. Courses typically include music theory, music interpretation, composition, conducting, and performance in a particular instrument or in voice. Music directors, composers, conductors, and arrangers benefit from considerable related work experience or advanced training in these subjects.

Job Outlook: Overall employment of musicians, singers, and related workers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2016. Most new wage and salary jobs for musicians will arise in religious organizations. Slower than average growth is expected for self-employed musicians, who generally perform in nightclubs, concert halls, and other venues. Growth in demand for musicians will generate a number of job opportunities, and many openings will arise from the need to replace those who leave the field each year because they are unable to make a living solely as musicians.

Salary: Median annual earnings of salaried music directors and composers are $39,750. The middle 50 percent earn between $23,660 and $60,350. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $15,210, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $110,850.

Significant Facts:

•    Some composers use computer software to compose and edit their music.

•    Composers study music theory, music interpretation, composition, conducting and performance.

•    Most new wage and salary jobs for musicians will arise in religious organizations.


After college, I became a freelance writer for YSB and SPIN magazine, chair stacker for Spike Lee lectures at LI University, cashier for Service Merchandise, production assistant for Blackside documentary film company, apprentice editor for 40 Acres and A Mule, apprentice editor for Vito Desario Editing, dialogue replacement editor, sound designer and music composer.

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

I was hands on and had to learn on the job. My boss told me I had to sink or swim. He was an editor and he gave me commercials that he was editing and asked me to create music for them. I had scored some of my own short films while I was in college, so I brought that intuition into the job and just created music based on pure instinct. I learned hints on music arrangement and structure from looking at other composers’ reels and listening to advice from editors.

Do you know of which companies have the best internships in this field that are known to help launch a successful career?

Yes, basically any of the top music houses in the business. Amber music, Elias Arts, Sacred Noise, Volition, Inc., Duotone, JSM Music, Human Worldwide are some of the best.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

New York and LA are the two best places for composers who are interested in film work because those are areas where most productions take place. But I believe you can make your career happen everywhere if you are willing to travel and use the phone or Internet vigorously.

What is your typical day like?

If I have a commercial to do, I watch the commercial about ten times in a row and determine which instruments I’m going to need. If there are any instruments that I don’t play, I have to call a musician in, for example, a xylophone player, singer or an upright bass player. Once I figure out what I need to make the commercial, I play the piano part, the bass part, the trumpet part and the drum part. If there is singing involved, I record the singers. Then I mix the music so it sounds great.

When I’m not scoring a commercial, I am on the phone networking, finding new contacts or writing press releases for commercials that I win. I am always thinking of creative ways to collaborate on future projects with clients. I believe in creating my own projects to score instead of waiting to be hired by someone else. I have written a children’s feature animation and a movie script that I am currently shopping.

What are your job responsibilities?

Making as much music of top quality as possible and strengthening and creating new contacts.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Playing that first note that paints a full canvas of music I really enjoy the process as much as the end result. I love creating something out of nothing, adding sound to silence, and creating a new musical space to live in where I’m surrounded by the melodies and harmonies of beautiful, colorful, inspirational and motivational textures of sound. I love getting into that zone with a piece of music I create, knowing that I have the power to take the music in any direction I want, just as a painter can do with one stroke of his or her brush. That’s a great feeling.

What do you dislike about your job?

Deadlines that are ridiculously close like a few hours or overnight. People who hire composers can often give you a very short turn around time, but you have to abide by their rules if you want to keep up. In my business, you have to rush your inspiration. There’s no time to wait for that falling star to jumpstart your creativity. The Mary J Blige’s and Jay Z’s of the world have the luxury of waiting until they are in the mood to write a song. They can take a week if they really want to. Not in my business. Clients have come up to me and said, “Can you write a hit song for our commercial campaign by tomorrow?” I have to say “yes” or they will move to the next person. So I rush to the studio and write music and lyrics, record the vocals with a singer, and mix it down basically in half a day because half the day has passed by the time they ask you to do it. Oh yeah, and it has to be a hit!!!

Have you had any turning-point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?

Yes, a car accident changed my television broadcasting career into a music career. I was house bound for an entire summer and my dad bought me a keyboard. I learned how to produce my own music that summer and discovered that music was my passion.

How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

I kept winning commercials with music I created and I enjoyed the process as well. Success will make a believer out of you fast.

Describe how you got into this industry and how you got your most recent job.

I took a casual tip from a friend to meet a commercial director and after about 30 minutes, she recommended me. I interviewed with the

company and they hired me as an apprentice editor and a “sound guy” because at that time there was no sound equipment they just knew they wanted to fill a void in their company. Eventually, the boss bought me the equipment I needed to make music. I worked as a staff composer for about eight years and then formed my own company.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

Being able to support my wife and daughter. Winning a Cannes Lion at the Cannes film festival it’s like the equivalent of winning a Grammy in the music industry.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

I’d be a script writer for television and film.

To what professional associations do you belong?

I belong to the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), the Association of Music Producers (AMP), the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Many of these associations are necessary in order to get paid.

What professional magazines/newspapers/journals/Web sites do you read?

I read Hollywood Reporter, Adiveek, Shoot Magazine, VIBE, Rolling Stone, Inked, and Billboard.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

Take any job at a music house in your area that is offered to you just get your foot in the door. You can be a receptionist and have your music heard by co-workers on a daily basis just because you’re in the environment. Chances are that someone is going to like something you do if you’re good. Then maybe that “someone” will give you a shot. And all you need is one shot to get noticed. That’s what happened to me. It can happen to you. Also, know who your competition is, but don’t be intimidated by them. Motivation and confidence breed success. Always create as if you have something to prove, even if it is only to yourself. Don’t be scared. After all, it’s just life. Live it! Enjoy it! Create it!